Assessments of new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must include the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions that would be triggered if they went into operation, according to a forthcoming paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review.
“In the paper, we argue that upstream and downstream emissions do typically fall within the scope of indirect and cumulative impacts that must be evaluated under NEPA, and provide recommendations on how agencies can account for such emissions in a manner that will improve federal decision-making, shield agencies from liability, and provide much-needed information about the indirect and cumulative effects of fossil fuel development on global climate change,” writes Jessica Wentz, associate director and fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
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“This question is an essential one, because it can significantly affect the balance of costs and benefits of a proposed project and an agency’s ability to justify the approval of the project in light of that balance,” she adds. “It can also influence broad, programmatic decisions about public lands management, energy infrastructure, and transportation networks.”
The paper takes a close look at NEPA requirements for analysis of upstream and downstream emissions, particularly indirect and cumulative effects and emissions from related activity. “We recommend that agencies provide a complete inventory of emissions from all stages of the fossil fuel supply chain as a starting point,” Wentz writes. “Agencies can then complement this inventory with additional analysis—such as an evaluation of how the project will affect fossil fuel prices and production from other sources.”
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